Helping to stay connected during Covid

October 13th, 2020 7:05 AM

By Jackie Keogh

Kevin O'Shanahan and Rory Doody in the tranquil garden at 49 North Street, Skibbereen. (Photos: Anne Minihane)

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The pandemic has resulted in an increase in people seeking mental health support from Skibbereen’s 49 North Street. Now, along with Wellbeing Network, they are hosting the West Cork Feel Good Festival, which through its exciting line-up is designed to promote wellness in the community.

Three years ago, in Skibbereen an organisation calling itself ‘49 North Street’ was established at that exact address, 49 North Street, to provide the people of West Cork with a place where they could go to explore ways of improving their mental health and wellbeing.

Last year, the number of people using the service on a weekly basis was between 60 and 70. This year, in the midst of a pandemic, demand for the service has increased, but the actual number spaces available at each of the groups and workshops has decreased.

An innovative way of ‘opening the door’ to more people, so to speak, was for 49 North Street, together with the Wellbeing Network, to host a West Cork Feel Good Festival to coincide with World Mental Health Day on October 10th. 

The aim of the festival is to promote and indeed celebrate community wellbeing, while offering direct links to many of the health and wellbeing resources that are available throughout West Cork.

Rory Doody, a service user – who also works as the area lead for Mental Health Engagement in Cork and Kerry – is an example of how those who use the services need to be involved in how they are designed and delivered.

Rory previously held a number of training workshops at North Street and it was out of these sessions that the West Cork Peer Support Group was established.

It is just one of the groups that meet at number 49 – there are many more involving music, the arts and discussion groups too. The location offers people a place where they can come and confidentially share practical advice on living through difficult times.

According to Rory, the onset of Covid-19 has highlighted peoples’ isolation, but he said they respond to that by offering people a way of making connections.

‘The pandemic is hard for everyone, but we are working to help people develop their coping skills – not just through the mental health services, but also by encouraging people to connect, in a meaningful way, with their family, friends and community.’

Kevin O’Shanahan, a nurse specialist in recovery and the arts, explained how engagement in creative activity can be very beneficial to mental health and wellbeing.

He said: ‘There is a lot of digital information on the website, but number 49 offers a hub, a physical space, where human connections can be made.’

It’s not the kind of place where the doors are open daily from 9am to 5pm. Instead it offers a weekly programme and people can – in accordance with the new public health guidelines – pre-book a place by emailing him on [email protected]

‘In terms of our physical space, we are now limited to six per group, but if social distancing has taught us anything, it’s how much more we need to connect,’ said Kevin.

Anxiety levels are increasing right across the board, but 49 North Street, the Wellbeing Network and Mental Health Engagement, are offering a message of hope.

That message comes in the form of the festival’s theme or tagline – ‘little things matter.’

What they are saying is that a walk, a cup of tea and a chat, a creative or artistic outlet, a musical event, or maybe even meeting a person who can offer relatable advice on the skills needed to deal with isolation, could make all the difference to a person’s life.

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